Even In Colorado, Employees May Be Terminated for Medical Marijuana Use In Violation of Company Drug Policy

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In Coats v. Dish Network, LLC, the Supreme Court of Colorado upheld an employer’s decision to terminate the employment of a quadriplegic employee who worked as a customer service representative and who held a state-issued license to consume medical marijuana. Coats, who had been confined to a wheelchair since his teenage years, tested positive for marijuana during a random drug testing conducted by Dish Network, and although he disclosed that he held a state license to consume the drug, Dish Network terminated his employment for violating the company’s drug policy. Coats argued that the termination of his employment was unlawful, where Colorado law prohibits discriminatory personnel actions for lawful off-duty conduct pursuant to the state’s “lawful activities statute,” Colo. Rev. Stat.  § 24-34-402.5.

The trial court dismissed his claim, finding that the “lawful activities statute” did not support Coats’ claim that his marijuana use was lawful, given that marijuana had not been legalized under federal law, i.e., the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 844(a) (2012). The appellate court affirmed the trial court on those grounds. The Supreme Court of Colorado, also noting that the use of marijuana was still illegal under federal law, held that the termination was lawful and did not constitute a discriminatory firing, given that the plain language of the Colorado “lawful activities statute” requires that the activity engaged in by the employee be “lawful” under both state and  federal law.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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